War Game – Doc10

Governor Steve Bullock appears in War Game by Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber, an official selection of the Special Screenings program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Thorsten Thielow.

Taking its inspiration from what happened on January 6th, War Game may turn out to be one of the most horrifying docs of 2024.

What happened on January 6, 2021 should have been a peaceful certification of the 2020 presidential election. Instead, the sitting president of the United States incited his followers in an insurrection against the U.S. I don’t have to remind you how they stormed the U.S. Capitol and hunted for the likes of Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, etic. Nor should I remind you that the former president is facing four criminal indictments in multiple cities, including for election interference. They total 91 felony counts! This should also serves as a terrifying reminder that American democracy is at stake in November. The day’s events led to a December 2021 editorial written by Paul D. Eaton, Antonio M. Taguba, and Steven M. Anderson in the Washington Post. It would inspire the Vet Voice Foundation to create a role-playing exercise about what might transpire in the upcoming presidential election.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the Vet Voice Foundation statement in the production notes:

The exercise we undertook on January 6, 2023, which is the subject of War Game, was our most ambitious effort yet to help ensure that our government and military are well-prepared to defend our Republic when it may be at its most vulnerable. While the lessons learned were privately delivered to top government officials, the documentary is a crucially important vehicle to inform the public about the very real threat of domestic extremism and hyper-polarization, and how it will take all of us to defend our democracy from those who would seek to destroy it.

In designing this war game, they take things up a notch in a big way. Instead of just taking on the U.S. Capitol, insurrectionists target state government leadership, too. Worst of all, a small percentage of active military side with the insurrectionists in going against the government. What happens when they go rogue and how should the government respond? It’s certainly a good question and the results play out like a thriller. The exercise features group of defense, intelligence, and elected policymakers from five different presidential administrations. They are Democrats, Republicans, or non-partisan and include retired generals and veterans of the CIA, FBI, DHS, and DOD. They use their experience in determining how the administration should respond in such a scenario. Oh yeah, they only have six hours to figure things out.

Governor Steve Bullock, General Wes Clark, Major General Linda Singh, Elizabeth Neumann, Gwen Camp, Louis Caldera, Peter Strzok, and David Priess appear in War Game by Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber, an official selection of the Special Screenings program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.
Governor Steve Bullock, General Wes Clark, Major General Linda Singh, Elizabeth Neumann, Gwen Camp, Louis Caldera, Peter Strzok, and David Priess appear in War Game by Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber, an official selection of the Special Screenings program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Pphoto by Wolfgang Held.

Former Montana governor Steve Bullock sits in as U.S. President John Hotham. Bullock ran during the 2020 campaign only to bow out early. He finally has the chance to sit in the Situation Room as the Commander-in-Chief. Granted, it’s for a role-playing game but he gets some good lines. One of which is the powerful speech he delivers at the end. Many of the players are taking on a role similar to their current or former positions. Former North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp takes a role as an advisor to the president. Doug Jones–a former U.S. senator from Alabama–serves as the U.S. Attorney General.

While they are discussing things in the Situation Room, the Red Cell is causing all sorts of havoc. The Red Cell is composed of military veterans familiar with the tactics of the far right. US Army veteran Kris Goldsmith, who participates as a Red Cell member, was also featured in Against All Enemies. Anyway, if the Red Cell wins, America loses. On the other side of the coin is the White Cell. These participants mostly include the game designers and consultants although Vet Voice’s Janessa Goldbeck also doubles as the Arizona governor. Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Alexander Vindman is also one of the game consultants.

War Game plays out as a thriller and reminds us of the real-world stakes that American democracy is currently up against. It combines cinéma vérité, political thriller, and dystopian sci-fi to create a film that nobody could have imagined in prior to November 2020.

DIRECTORS: Jesse Moss & Tony Gerber
SCREENWRITERS: Tony Gerber & Jesse Moss

War Game held its Chicago premiere during Doc10. A theatrical release is forthcoming in the fall. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.